Blockchain in food safety

Weather, wither, whether: How blockchain enables precision agriculture

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In the past few years, there has been an increasing emphasis on precision agriculture. The practice of precision agriculture helps ensure that every small parcel of land has measured and obtained the right amounts of fertilizer, seed, water and other requirements. Local weather patterns are used as an aid in accurate cultivation, and harvesting and land treatments occur at precisely correct times.

Precision agriculture technologies have sometimes proved to be complex and expensive, and their adoption is often stalled in precisely those agriculturally-challenged areas where they are needed most. Blockchain — closely coupled with other modern technologies such as drones, smartphones and IoT — can help improve our food supply system, while facilitating cost-effective, democratized and profitable growing of organic, specialized and other highly-desired foods in places ranging from urban rooftops to hitherto too-small-to-cultivate plots in far-flung or inaccessible areas.

Learn more about IBM’s food safety solution IBM Food Trust

My late father grew up on a small farm in rural New Jersey, and some local people still remember the 1930s when electricity first came to an area 50 miles from Times Square. Of course, what came was not just electricity per se; rather, rural electrification enabled the use of many new technologies for improved irrigation, livestock control, crop enhancement and other unanticipated advances. Recent developments in blockchain — particularly the benefits for agriculture on everything from equitable land use to drone-enabled cultivation — may, dare we say, prove no less “electrifying” for the present and emerging system of sustainable, optimized and democratized agriculture.

Blockchain is at its core a secure, distributed, immutable ledger, which can affect appropriate operations ranging from turning on the payments for seeds and equipment to turning off irrigation pumps in the fields. I want to briefly highlight several key ways in which blockchain can impact agriculture.

Land ownership and agricultural financing

With blockchain, a small farmer, even in a politically-troubled locality, can attempt to assure that they retain ownership of, and legal title to, their land. For example, the technology found in their smart phone — GPS and a camera — can increment a blockchain record that is widely distributed and difficult to repudiate, even after periods of political turmoil. Similarly, the fact that they can prove that they own the land aids in financing or mortgaging for seeds, equipment and improvements.

Livestock wellness and disease control

IBM clients are pioneering blockchain in food traceability and transportation, but blockchain can also record the entire health cycle of livestock as well as fish. The technology can additionally isolate both beneficial activity and disease vectors to particular barns, stalls, pens or oceanic locations. This can be done using a variety of IoT and radio-frequency technologies, which can acquire data and input results that are uploaded to the blockchain.

Bringing new plots and parcels into world agriculture

There are myriad ways in which blockchain enables drone agriculture. For example, the safety of drone components and construction, the validation of authority to operate drones throughout the growing cycle by addressing the growing problems of deconfliction with multiple drone operations in airspace that is restricted due to population density, and noise concerns to both people and livestock. Perhaps the most exciting thing is that drones can open up small, distant or hard-to-reach plots — be they on distant mountainous terrain or nearby urban rooftops. Not only could drones monitor the vegetation’s health closely, but they could in some cases be used for seeding, aerial application, irrigation and harvesting.

New farming models to enable local sponsorship

Blockchain can enable a distant restaurant, school, or even family to “sponsor” land, understanding its exact cultivation history and receiving the exact product. Via blockchain, there can be an assured, secure understanding of every aspect of a farm plot’s ownership, financing, agricultural personnel and cultivation history. Such items as seed purchasing, fertilizer usage and weather data can be authenticated and added to the blockchain. With this trusted, distributed, immutable record, a restaurant could reserve a small piece of a farm in a distant area — or in a nearby neighborhood urban or hydroponic garden — for its own menu innovation and customer interaction.

We can foresee the use of blockchain in every area of food cultivation, assurance, trading and delivery as food moves from plot to plate. Blockchain can provide assurance that the actual farming participants and recipients — whether on a neighborhood rooftop or around the world — receive the appropriate value for their personal labor and transactions.

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Associate Partner and Master Inventor - Blockchain Solutions, Global Banking and Financial Markets CoC

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